Golden Anniversary Produces 20 Year Mission

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Drill Sgt. Tash Smith, 320th Regiment, 98th Training Division (IET), talks to the last Echo Mission Basic Training Graduates for FY15. Photo by Master Sgt. Deborah Williams, 108th Training Command (IET), Public Affairs

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — As the 108th and Fort Jackson, South Carolina already have a long history together, it is only fitting that during the 108th Golden Griffon Anniversary in 1996, the division received a new mission at Fort Jackson.

The division sent the first drill sergeants there to train under the “Echo Mission” concept. The 108th handled this new initiative while still supporting ranges, augmenting Reception Battalion staff, temporarily replacing bands and training officers in the Chaplain’s Basic Course.

Under the new concept, a reserve component company combined with active component companies to form a single battalion in order to train the influx of high school graduates in Basic Combat Training during the summer months. The capability of the Army Reserve was and still is crucial during the summer “surge”, in which thousands of recent high school graduates are scheduled to complete basic training.

Even though the “Echo Mission” has evolved over the years, some things haven’t.

Staff Sgt. Christine Palizano said, “This is our last Echo Mission in these trailers. Next mission, we will be going into the new buildings, but I will not be here to see them. I have been a drill sergeant since May 2014, so next cycle I will be moving on to Alaska.”

This is also the last Echo Mission for FY15. Soldiers prepared for their final equipment layout inspection before graduation Sept. 24.

“Once these Soldiers have completed their equipment inventory, they will be required to stand in front of their lockers in Class B uniform for a walk-thru locker inspection conducted by the drill sergeants,” said Capt. Charles Wright, 1st Battalion, 320th Regiment, 98th Training Division (IET).

Soldiers will spend most of their remaining time before graduation cleaning their weapons for turn-in since this is the last Echo Mission for FY15, continued Wright.

But some of the drill sergeants and support staff will return next year because of their outstanding performance.

“Drill Sgt. Smith has been helping out for three years and everybody raves about her,” said Capt. Scott Suttles, company commander, 1st/320th out of Beaver, West Virginia. “This is an exceptional testament to her for a continuous job well done.”

Even though Drill Sgt. Tash Smith is a 98th Training Division Soldier, she wears the active duty component patch.

“We all wear the active duty patch to keep Soldiers from trying to get by with something,” Smith explained. “If a Soldier realizes you may be a Reserve Soldier embedded with the active duty, they will try things they would not normally try with the active component.”

“It also gives continuity, so the Reserve Drill Sergeant does not stand out, making things go smoother,” Smith stated.

The Echo Mission Reserve Component also brings their own support staff for continuity.

Suttles explained, “We bring our own support staff to maintain continuity, but some get tasked out to other units.”

Some of the drill sergeants are farmed out to the active duty units to assist them when they need extra help.

Sgt. Leslie Wertz, 2nd/317th, 98th Training Division (IET), Lynchburg, Va., directs Basic Combat Training Soldiers during their equipment turn-in for the last Echo Mission in FY15. Photo by Master Sgt. Deborah Williams, 108th Training Command (IET), Public Affairs

Smith has been farmed out the last four years with the Echo Mission. “This has been my favorite mission so far. September 30th will be my last day and I love this job, but I am glad to go home to my 5-year-old son. I have missed him.”

Smith has been here for 179 days, but they still want to keep her longer.

Staff Sgt. Smith has the same performance from the day she rolls in here to the last day. The way she does her job is a testament to our battalion. She is our “Rock Star”, said Wright.

We have quality versus quanity. Our drill sergeants and staff don’t just work two days a month. They are constantly running, doing Tough Mudders or anything to keep themselves physically fit, said Suttles.

Sometimes drill sergeants are even brought here straight from Drill Sergeant Graduation at the Drill Sergeant Academy.

“We bring the drill sergeant graduates here to put them on the trail in order to evaluate them. Most of them do really well because everything is fresh in their minds,” said Wright. “It is also a positive environment because our drill sergeants volunteer to be drill sergeants and that can sometimes make a difference.”

Some even ask to return next year for the complete cycle.

Sgt. Leslie Wertz, 2nd/317th, 98th Training Division (IET), Lynchburg, Va., is anxious to return next year for the Red Phase.

“It was a good learning experience. I learned what I can do, should and should not do. It was alright and I look forward to coming back in the Red Phase, more hands on with the trainees,” said Wertz.

“I would like the opportunity to see it through from the beginning to the end, it would seem to have more purpose and motivation for me.”

Celebrating 20 years in FY16, the Echo Mission is older than most of the Basic Combat trainees the drill sergeants train during the summer surge; a testament to the Echo Mission and the drill sergeants.

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